Q. Recently, an employee was involved in a nonwork-related car accident. The employee’s attorney sent the company an authorization letter demanding that we provide the employee’s personnel file in 20 days. It seems the attorney needs the information for a potential lawsuit (unrelated to the company) concerning the accident. Do we have to turn over the personnel file?
A. No. In New York, there is no law that requires employers to provide employees with access or copies of their personnel files. Furthermore, an “authorization” letter does not compel the employer to produce the personnel file. (Of course, you would have to comply with a valid subpoena.)
It is important to remember that other states, such as Connecticut, do have laws that provide employees access to personnel records.
In addition, if the company has a policy that allows employees access to their personnel files, you should follow the policy. It is advisable that such a policy emphasizes, among other things, that the review of a personnel file must take place in the presence of an HR representative.